Two weeks ago, a group of UNC-Chapel Hill students sat down with Chancellor James Moeser and several University administrators to discuss ways to improve the campus climate for conservative students. As the meeting ended, all of us who attended breathed a sigh of relief. What could have been a tense and heated encounter even had several friendly and light-hearted moments. The meeting couldn’t have been more cordial, everyone in attendance was polite and plenty of compliments were exchanged. The administrators were receptive and seemed genuinely interested in what we had to say. But what was really accomplished there remains to be seen.
Those of us who participated were all members of a campus group called the Committee for a Better Carolina, founded last year to counter much of the anti-American sentiment that was swirling around campus in response to American military involvement in Iraq.
The meeting came after several weeks of intense debate sparked by the group over the University’s selection of Barbara Ehrenreich’s socialist diatribe Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America.
During the meeting, we sought to draw a parallel between the problem we saw with the summer reading assignment – that the University had failed to offer students faced with the task of evaluating the truth of Ehrenreich’s assertion that American capitalism is a dismal failure any evidence to the contrary – with other University programs that are, dare I say it, a bit one-sided.
We expressed our concerns about the lack of any significant conservative voice on campus, told stories of being shouted or marked down in the classroom for daring to reveal our right-leanings and presented statistics demonstrating that every campus department dealing with social issues – from political science to public policy – were filled to the brim with Democrats. In fact, in every one of the departments we examined, at least 80 percent were registered Democrats.
We asked the administration for three things to help remedy this situation. First, we asked that the University amend its non-discrimination policy to make it clear that discrimination on the basis of ideology, political affiliation or creed were unacceptable. Second, we asked that the University conduct an investigation into the campus climate for conservative students, similar to one conducted last year by the Office of the Provost for homosexual students, to investigate whether our claims of discrimination against conservative students were, in fact, true and to recommend changes if such discrimination were proven. Finally, we asked that the University include ideology as one of the factors it uses as a part of its definition of “diversity” when deciding which students to admit and who to hire for faculty positions.
On our first request, we were told by Moeser that ideology, political affiliation and creed were probably already implied in the current non-discrimination policy and thus did not need to be explicitly stated, but that this suggestion would be investigated further. We are still awaiting a final decision from the administration on what action, if any, will be taken on this.
As expected, we were quickly shot down on our other two suggestions. Moeser said the University could not do an independent study of the campus climate for students of any particular political group, plus, it seemed to him, our organization was already doing a fine job of serving as a watchdog for campus conservatives. The suggestion to include ideology among the factors considered in the University’s definition of diversity appeared completely out of the question, and is probably illegal, we were told.
Why should it matter whether most professors are Democrats and liberals, the administrators argued; after all, they are supposed to check their political affiliations at the classroom door. Several administrators pointed out that faculty and students should be selected on the basis of merit, not insignificant factors such as ideology. What a novel idea, we thought; maybe that means that the University will be abandoning its current affirmative action policy sometime soon.
While we got few promises from University administrators about concrete changes to ensure that UNC-CH becomes a true marketplace of ideas, we did get assurance from Moeser that faculty members who bring their political agendas into the classroom were not living up to their responsibilities as true educators. We walked away from the meeting content with the fact that the administration at least agreed with the basic premise of our argument: that the classroom is no place to push a political agenda.
But less than a week after our meeting, along came an editorial by Andrew Perrin, an assistant professor of sociology. In his editorial, Perrin, who teaches a course this semester entitled “Citizenship and Society in the United States,” asserted that, “Conservative students’ accusations of discrimination are, quite simply, evidence that they are losing in the marketplace of ideas.” (News & Observer, August 20, 2003, Page A15)
That statement is, quite simply, nothing more than pure bigotry. The first time I read this sentence I was in shock, and the more times I read it, my shock turned to amusement. Perrin had unwittingly proven our point. How are we to believe that someone who has made up his mind that conservatives have lost in the marketplace of ideas be trusted to check his politics at the door, much less present a balanced perspective on social issues when the situation arises?
Perrin continued belittling our concerns by calling upon the students in our group to abandon “the silly accusations of discrimination and engaging, honestly and openly, in the exchange of ideas.” But after reading an editorial like that in the paper, would any student want to express a conservative point of view in Perrin’s classroom? If he isn’t afraid to trash conservative students in a public setting like a newspaper editorial page, what is to prevent him from marking down students who dare to disagree with his worldview on assignments in his classroom?
Perrin claims it is ridiculous to call for another side to be presented in the case of the summer reading program because there are many sides to any issue. He is right, but as it stands now, at UNC-CH and so many other campuses around the nation, only one perspective is being presented and it is that of the political Left. It would seem that at least two sides are a lot better than one. But far too often, many faculty members’ idea of a debate between the Left and the Right is one between communism and socialism, not conservatism and liberalism.
What is so puzzling is why so many on our nation’s college campuses are so adamantly opposed to efforts to promote political balance. What are they so afraid of? Leftist faculty members know that the answer is embarrassingly simple: If conservative thought is allowed onto an equal playing field at our nation’s campuses, it is they who will wind up the losers in the marketplace of ideas.